Once we cross that border into veganism and look back, we all become aware of things we never realised before. Things that we took for granted and that were therefore unexamined; vast areas of our behaviour and of our thoughts, huge blind spots in our minds and in our awareness are suddenly revealed and they shift sharply into focus.
The things we ‘just know’
I now realise how reluctant I was to truly inform myself about the animal products and secretions that I consumed. Although vaguely aware about vivisection and testing, I didn’t delve into the subject. I shrank from finding out about leather, fur, wool and every single substance that I used to treat as a resource. It was as if, in my mind, these subjects were Teflon-coated.
Oh yes, occasionally my mind would slide over them and I would briefly think, ‘I wonder…’ then, as if the topic were too enormous, too challenging, my thoughts would slide away, latching onto something else. As my thoughts slid off, like a mantra I would mentally reassure myself with a selection of the familiar myths that I was taught as I grew up. You may recognise some of them.
• ‘We have to eat animals to be healthy. That’s just the way it is.’
• ‘It can’t be as bad as some people would have you think because if it was, everyone would protest and it wouldn’t happen.’
• ‘There are laws here against cruelty. Of course there are always some people that break the rules and they need to be stopped.’
• ‘I always buy the best I can afford. At least that way I know that my food was treated humanely.’
• ‘Animal testing, well of course that’s just done for medical reasons. It’s sad but what else can we do?’
• ‘Animals aren’t aware of what’s happening to them. As long as they’re treated humanely, it’s all okay.’
• ‘Animals don’t die for us to have milk and eggs.’
• ‘I don’t believe in cruelty to animals.’
• ‘Maybe it’s about time to make another contribution to ‘<insert name>’. They’re always protesting about cage sizes / live transport / fur / fishing / hunting / foie gras / ..’
• ‘I hardly eat any meat.’
• Well of course leather is a by-product of meat, and meat is necessary. It’s only respectful to use every part of an animal that’s been killed.’
• Honey? Bees are making it anyway. Taking it doesn’t harm them.’
• Silk? I heard you can get humane silk. That scarf I got was expensive so it was probably that kind.’
• ‘Veal? Awful. I would never buy that. I read that it’s illegal in this country.’
• I sign lots of petitions. I mean most of these practices are necessary but I believe that everything needs to be done humanely.’
• ‘I don’t understand how anyone can be cruel to animals.’
• ‘I’ve never got over losing my dog. I loved him like a child.’
• ‘Things are getting better, like only recently I read somewhere that some airline has refused to fly some animals to some research lab or other in some country overseas. I signed that petition so I helped.’
• I always buy toiletries and household stuff that’s ‘cruelty free’. I’m not really sure exactly what all the various labels mean but let’s be honest; they wouldn’t label it that way if it wasn’t true. There are laws against that.’
• ‘Animals don’t know what’s happening when they’re in a slaughterhouse. I read that it’s quick and painless.’
• ‘Everyone else is doing it.’
I could continue but I won’t.
A wake-up call
Once I started to write that list, it actually frightened me how easily the excuses tripped off the keyboard. It distressed me more than I can explain yet these were the stock responses, the ingrained excuses that I used to use. If I cast my mind back, I can even hear myself saying them, wanting to be sure that others knew how caring, how thoughtful and how ethical I was.
Nowadays I could pick apart every single one of these for the self-serving, self-deceiving nonsense that it is. I look at that list now and I see it for what it was; it was dogma. It was my wall.
It was the wall that encapsulated the mindset that I learned as a child and that enabled me to continue to participate in the most vile and unjust atrocity of our age; the behaviour of our horrifically violent species towards every other species on this planet that we share.
It was the wall that restrained and prevented my reason, my logic, my intelligence from being applied to what, on reflection, are the most shaky and unjustifiable concepts, held by me in the past with no real knowledge or understanding whatsoever. I had cherry-picked my way through life, gleaning bits of information from my selective reading and using such snippets as I found to reinforce my inner wall, using these as justification of my own behaviour and as a vindication of my ethical view of the world.
And then, one day an article caught my eye. It was about the plight of the millions of victims of our species’ obsession with using dairy, and it was made absolutely clear that as we have no need whatsoever to use the bodies and lives of other individuals who are like us in every way except species, the only way, the ONLY way that we can truly reject our part in atrocities beyond our ability to imagine, is to become vegan.
New understanding for an old word
Vegan. Suddenly a word that had lain in my vocabulary gathering dust, vaguely thought of as a rather obscure and hippyish form of privation, reached out as a living, vital, warm and relevant word. I found that it described a life that rejected causing deliberate harm to other individuals; a life that refused to be part of the horror.
The word ‘vegan’ found a chink in my wall, and suddenly light reached a place where it had never reached before. Once the truth started to flood in, it just didn’t stop and brick by painful brick, the wall began to crumble. As I read on, the word ‘vegan’ described a life that put into action all the things I had thought I was already doing but now realised that I most definitely was not.
In a very short period of time I realised that not only did I want to live that life, I wanted to be worthy of this new word that I had learned. I wanted to be vegan; to use it to describe myself, to live it and breathe it and to try and convince others to join me.
When we are not vegan, we each have a wall and for me it’s been a sobering experience to remember how robust it seemed to be. For each of us, remembering that wall may help us understand the reasons why so many are resistant to the message of veganism but truth and honesty are on our side. I’m glad to have left the wall behind me.
Let’s break down the walls and make a vegan world. Be vegan.
Links about veganism:
Dogma: a belief or set of beliefs that is accepted by the members of a group without being questioned or doubted